By Marafaele Mohloboli
MASERU (Reuters) – Lesotho citizens voted in a parliamentary election on Friday that political analysts said could see the ruling party lose power after years of political instability that the southern African mountain kingdom’s lawmakers have failed to resolve.
The election has gone ahead despite a deadlock in parliament on a whole gamut of major constitutional reforms that were meant to be enacted ahead of the vote in order to bring order to Lesotho’s fractious politics.
The All Basotho Convention (ABC) has run the country of 2.14 million people since 2017, but divisions within the party have given it two prime ministers over five years.
Defections have left the party vulnerable to its opposition rivals, the Democratic Congress (DC), and the upstart Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) which is led by millionaire diamond magnate Sam Matekane.
“The future of Basotho (the people of Lesotho) is in their hands. RFP is ready to govern,” Matekane said while casting a vote in his hometown of Mantsonyane.
“We await eagerly (to find out) … who they want to lead them.”
Speaking to Reuters before polls opened, Lesotho political analyst Lefu Thaela said he thought the ruling ABC would lose the elections and that “the DC and RFP will be neck-and-neck”.
Thaela said the DC was likely to get the most votes but if it didn’t win an outright majority, the outgoing ABC could emerge as kingmaker.
‘I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED’
Despite the vibrant range of parties, some voters were decidedly unexcited by the options open to them at the ballot box.
“Truth be told, no government has ever fulfilled my aspirations and I am very disappointed,” Semoko Monare, who has been voting since 1993, said.
Surrounded on all sides by South African mountains, Lesotho’s high-altitude springs provide vital freshwater to its parched neighbour, supplying the commercial hub Johannesburg.
In 2020, ABC leader Thomas Thabane stepped down as prime minister after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife. He denied any wrongdoing, and the charges were later dropped.
His successor, Moeketsi Majoro, declared a state of emergency in August after lawmakers failed to pass constitutional reforms to amend everything from the role of political parties and rules on floor-crossing in parliament to the appointment of senior officials and the prime minister’s role.
The reforms were meant to make Lesotho less prone to political logjams but got stuck in one themselves.
Lesotho has seen four coups since independence from Britain, and occasional bouts of unrest have forced South Africa to send in troops to restore order – most recently in 2014 and 1998.
However, analysts and participants expect these elections, even if close and highly contested, not to trigger street battles.
“These have been very peaceful elections and we are not expecting any violence but for everyone to accept the results,” deputy DC leader Motlalentoa Letsosa said.
Last month, Lesotho’s highest court ruled that the state of emergency was unconstitutional. The ABC has selected another leader, former health minister Nkaku Kabi, to contest its ticket.
(Reporting by Marafaele Mohloboli; Writing by Tim Cocks and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)